The aim of the present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study at 3 T was to investigate the influence of the verbal-visual cognitive style on cerebral activation patterns during mental arithmetic. In the domain of arithmetic, a visual style might for example mean to visualize numbers and (intermediate) results, and a verbal style might mean, that numbers and (intermediate) results are verbally repeated. In this study, we investigated, first, whether verbalizers show activations in areas for language processing, and whether visualizers show activations in areas for visual processing during mental arithmetic. Some researchers have proposed that the left and right intraparietal sulcus (IPS), and the left angular gyrus (AG), two areas involved in number processing, show some domain or modality specificity. That is, verbal for the left AG, and visual for the left and right IPS. We investigated, second, whether the activation in these areas implied in number processing depended on an individual's cognitive style.
42 young healthy adults participated in the fMRI study. The study comprised two functional sessions. In the first session, subtraction and multiplication problems were presented in an event-related design, and in the second functional session, multiplications were presented in two formats, as Arabic numerals and as written number words, in an event-related design. The individual's habitual use of visualization and verbalization during mental arithmetic was assessed by a short self-report assessment.
We observed in both functional sessions that the use of verbalization predicts activation in brain areas associated with language (supramarginal gyrus) and auditory processing (Heschl's gyrus, Rolandic operculum). However, we found no modulation of activation in the left AG as a function of verbalization.
Our results confirm that strong verbalizers use mental speech as a form of mental imagination more strongly than weak verbalizers. Moreover, our results suggest that the left AG has no specific affinity to the verbal domain and subserves number processing in a modality-general way.
Keywords: fMRI, Cognitive styles, Number processing, Gyrus supramarginalis, Heschl's gyrus, Rolandic operculum